Kamaru Usman is well on his way


the calm before the storm

"…Take what from who?!"

Kamaru Usman after knocking Out Gilbert Burns at UFC 258

The Kamaru Usman that was seen in the Octagon at UFC 258 was good, great even. But that was not the Nigerian Nightmare. Let me explain. Kamaru Usman has always looked physically blessed. And he has always proven to be technically gifted. But the truth is that Kamaru Usman has never given the impression that he has the best of anything. Before fighting Woodley, it was assumed that Woodley’s wrestling was better. Before fighting Covington it was assumed that Covington’s cardio was better. Before fighting Masvidal it was assumed that Masvidal’s striking was better. But then Kamaru outwrestled Woodley, outlasted Colby and outstruck Masvidal (and yes. This is after subtracting the toe-stomps.) That was the Nigerian Nightmare. The man who took your skill into account and found a way to make it less than what it is… the outgrinding, outpacing machine. The man who would stand across the octagon to start the final round and would have won every minute of the fight without even cutting his opponent’s face. The Nightmare will still come from time to time, but he wasn’t needed in the last fight.

The Scenario for Gilbert to win was simple. I watched every video I could previewing the fight and quite rightly they mentioned that Gilbert had to catch Kamaru Usman early, pounce and finish him. The longer the fight went the more chances for Usman to win. And while that did happen… it really didn’t. The first round saw Kamaru Usman get rocked. And badly. He was on all fours and when he stood, his head was shaking itself back to and his body language looked to be that of someone who had seconds to survive. But he had more than that.

"…the reason I am the best in the world is because my mind is stronger than everyone in the division."

Kamaru Usman, octagon interview after UFC 248 Main Event

After evading a head-kick that Gilbert swung with fight-ending intentions, Gilbert Burns fell on the floor and was on his backside. The ensuing two minutes played what would ultimately be my story of the fight. Not the jab (that has always been there but has been obviously polished by Trevor Whitman’s mastery). Not that Gilbert went Cody-Garbrant Crazy (which would be true had it not been for the fact that he went out of round 1 outstruck but with less significant damage). Not the story from Usman that that was how it always was in their sparring sessions. The real story was told in two minutes.

Burns fell on his back when Usman ducked a head-kick. And Usman was still visibly hurt and recovering from well-placed two overhand rights. Kamaru was dazed, but he knew that going into Gilbert’s guard on the ground would be suicide. Usman was disoriented but he knew that he needed to stop receiving blows to the head. The champion compromised decided that he needed an in-round break from the action. There was no eye-poke or nut-shot to take advantage of (hey Colby), so Usman did something that still puzzles people even now. He found a way to force Burns to let him rest. Anytime Burns attempted to stand, he would put his two arms on the mat and Usman would dash forward as if to say "your face is open for a strike" and Burns would posture again. Usman did this about three times until he came to. But that was just a minute in. he still had more thinking to do. Usman had to decide how to get to the end of the round and reset properly because the strikes would resume. So he spent the next thirty seconds gaming the playing field.

Before letting Gilbert stand, in between a handful of hard kicks to the thighs, Usman reached into the challenger’s guard and landed three body shots, the third of which was powerful enough that Burns noticeable winced and became urgent with his need to return to his feet. Usman is no stranger to the body shot. In his last four fights, he has averaged half a century of biody shots to each opponent. He uses it to score points, to deal damage and most of all, to reduce the endurance level of his opponent. It is why Woodley looked up into the distance after receiving ten straight to his ribs; and why Masvidal put his hands on his head gasping for air after the first round; and it is why when Gilbert Burns went to his corner one, he was with his mouth open, breathing like he had fought three rounds.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is something amazing that UFC 258 taught us. Kamaru Usman is still learning. Let me rephrase that. The Undisputed Welterweight Champion of the world, who has never lost a match in the UFC Octagon, who has only lost 2 rounds officially to Colby Covington in the UFC, who dominated the champion to win the belt, who knocked out his first challenger and shut out his next challenger on six days notice and had to fight and finish a man who he had trained and shared secrets with for eight years… is still improving. If he was not the boogeyman before, he surely is now. And he is getting better.

"…I am classically trained… my job is to dominate… I might not be the best striker, I may not be the best wrestler. But when it comes to mixing [this] up, I am the best on the planet."

Kamaru Usman in the UFC 251 Media Scrum

In the world today, there is no one better at 170 pounds than Kamaru Usman. Ask Rashad Evans what makes Kamaru Usman special; ask Anthony Johnson what Usman has accomplished so far; ask Daniel Cormier what Usman does to stay in prime condition; ask Khabib Nurmagomedov what he thinks about Uman’s wrestling; ask Micheal Chandler what training with Usman has done for his career; ask Justin Gaethje what he sees everyday in sparring… ask Gilbert Burns. In the Welterweight division, the four names that follow the Champion have lost to him. And the only one who hasn’t is Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson at number 5. That is the fight many want to see. We remember Thompson giving Tyron Woodley problems with his reach and strikes and assume that it could play out similarly with Usman. It may not, but it may. Usman however, wants Masvidal.

As part of the promotion for the pay-per-view, Usman shared the story of his father finally returning home from a long incarceration. The circumstances around that put ‘a chip on his shoulder’. And it is that chip that makes Usman want to fight a man he has already beat, to put the excuses to bed and leave no doubt. It’s a rematch that may not excite many. But the way Usman is going, rematches that do not excite may become his only way to defend his title because Usman is well on his way to what everyone that knows him closely has said in some way or form: a very special Career.